Assassins, by Standing Room Only Productions, is an unusual mix of character study and borderline theater of the absurd. It is an anthology play focusing on all the presidential assassins, both the famous and the obscure. It is a musical, with eleven numbers, with each assassin getting a part focused on them. There is a non musical lead in to each song, with either an anachronistic conversation between assassins or a character study into the mind of the assassin.
Chris Patton plays Leon Czologosz, the assassin of president McKinley. He plays a confused and bitter man, driven to kill by his feelings of injustice during the turn of the century. He is hurt and timid during his character driven story, but switches to anger during the out of time sequences. He has a touching scene with Angela Mayans Lee where he convinces himself murder is his only option.
Brock Hatton is John Hinkley Jr. He has the difficult task of bringing the extremely introverted and deeply troubled shooter of Ronald Reagan to life. He does so with an almost sympathetic portrayal of the assassin, looking at life the sad eyes of a truly tormented soul at the same time his shirt stares at the audience with Travis Bickle's menacing stare. His reaction to the mocking pictures of Reagan as he futilely shoots would be heart wrenching if it wasn't an act of pure madness.
Zack Varela is the madcap Charles Guiteau, Garfield's assassin. He is half the comedic relief in the show, bouncing around in manic glee talking about his varied past and his expectations for his future. At times his performance borders on slapstick, even during his assassination scene. One cannot help but feel a tinge of sorrow as he marches to the gallows singing a song that is half dirge and half vaudeville.
Chris Gibson stands out as the obscure Samuel Byck, who attempted to kill Nixon with a hijacked aircraft. Gibson plays the angry Byck in an outstandingly vulgar fashion. He portrays the man as someone caught up in the happier times of his past, trapped in a changing world he cannot accept. Gibson channels raw emotion into Byck, showing us the man's misguided rage.
Connor Lynn is Squeaky Fromme, one of the two female assassins. She is paired with Tamara Robertson as Sara Jane Moore, both followers of Charles Manson. Unlike the other cast members, their character stories are told at the same time. Lynn is a laid back hippie, madly in love with the murderous Manson, Robertson's Moore is several times divorced housewife and a terrible mother. They are mostly used for comedy relief, though Lynn gets a chance to show her insane love with a duet with Hatton, while Robertson's anachronistic moment is creepy target practice lessons from a lecherous Varela.
Robert Malbrough is Guiseppe Zangara, the attempted assassin of Franklin Roosevelt. He has the smallest role and speaks with a heavy Italian accent throughout the play. His part is overshadowed in his character study by the chorus, his one major speaking part is done in translated Italian. Zangara is driven mad by an unknown pain, and Malbrough portrays this well with the little focus he gets.
Ben Granger is the misguided patriot John Wilkes Booth, and he steals every scene he is in. From his twisted logic for killing Lincoln at the beginning of the play to his almost psychotic explanation on the difference between murder and assassination towards the end are captivating. He is the spokesman for the assassins, their spiritual leader. He plays Booth with gusto and confidence, even when presented with his failings and actual reasons.
Danny Dyer plays the Proprietor, effectively the narrator during most of the historical musical numbers. He ranges from accusatory with Booth to almost encouraging with Guiteau. He keeps the musicals moving and gives them a good pace. He also plays additional parts in the play.
Justin White is the Balladeer, he leads the ensemble as the Chorus and does a good job as various news broadcasters through the years. He also features prominently in many of the musical numbers.
The Ensemble consists of John Carmona, Angela Mayans Lee and Chaney Moore. They play all the supporting roles in the play. Special praise is owed to them for pulling double duty (along with Justin White) to cover additional roles due to a sick cast member. Carmona plays President Ford foremost in his many roles, playing him as the klutz made famous by Chevy Chase. Angela Mayans Lee standout performance is anarchist Emma Goldman, consoling the confused Czologosz. Chaney Moore plays among others Sarah Jane Moore's son, and she shows off her impressive vocal range in a dispute over two quarters.
The musical numbers are a rather odd mix, many of them change pace in the middle of the number. Most of them are done as choral numbers, with the focus on the last scene's assassin and the ensemble or proprietor. Stand out numbers include Unworthy of Your Love a strange duet from Hatton and Lynn to their characters' forlorn loves, and Ballad of Guiteau with a wonderfully bipolar piece with the cheeriest march to the gallows you will ever hear.
The play itself is thought provoking, there are no good guys in this one. It shows each assassin's motivations, from patriotism, to madness, anger, love, obsession to despair. None of the characters are presented as absolutely evil, though Booth comes the closest. It is an emotional roller coaster ride as one minute you are laughing at Guiteau dancing up the gallows with a tambourine, to Hinckley singing a love ballad to a picture of a woman that doesn't even know he exists. More than anything else, it reminds you that murderers come and go, but assassins are forever.
Assassins is at the Obsidian theater on 3522 White Oak. It runs through August 1. Arrive a little earlier before showtime as parking is an issue. Seats are limited.
Performances are at Obsidian Theatre
To purchase tickets please visit www.sro-productions.com
or call 713-300-2358 for more information